Quote (TheRusty, post #17):
Sometimes we teach level 9 stuff to level 6s (or level 5 stuff to level 1s)
Good point, Rusty. I'd go further and argue that good instructors always
teach "level 9 stuff" to students at all
levels. As I've often said here, as well is in instructor training clinics, "we don't teach beginning skiing--we introduce beginners to the skiing of experts"!
And this is a point that few non-instructors seem to understand. Skiing is a sport of fundamentals, and competent instructors can identify and work with those fundamentals at any level of skill. Characteristics of those fundamentals will, of course, vary with skill level, speed, pitch, terrain, and conditions. But the fundamental priniciples of technique, tactics, and intent can be the same from beginner through advanced and expert.
Or, they can be different. Few self-taught (or poorly taught) skiers can escape the bad habits, dead-end movement patterns, incompatible (with great skiing) thought patterns--intent and understanding--and other frustrations that impede progress and lead to the notorious plateaus and ruts of the sport. You get "better" at whatever you practice. At any level, you can either get better at good skiing fundamentals, or you can get "better" at bad skiing fundamentals.
And that's a primary point of the PSIA ability levels breakdown. Since the principles (fundamentals) can be the same at every level, the various levels attempt to describe the varying characteristics
as they evolve from beginner through advanced. (And remember--those characteristics reflect not only skill level, but also speed, pitch, and terrain/conditions--so these factors do enter the descriptions.)
The problem is that few skiers have had the good fortune of continued great coaching from the beginning. Few recreational skiers have more than a cursory and superficial understanding of the fundamentals of great skiing. So they "improve," and become "competent" at increasing speeds and on increasingly difficult terrain, even as their fundamental movements and tactics may vary widely. Indeed, the vast majority of intermediate and advanced skiers at most resorts ski fast on challenging terrain, but demonstrate techniques and tactics that differ fundamentally (less efficient, less versatile, typically defensive and braking or with limited control of line/turn shape) from the skiing of true experts. As they continue to "get better at bad skiing," the challenge of fitting them into a universal ability-level scale grows immensely!
The fundamental question becomes, "who is the 'better' skier--the less-experienced skier who is on the right track, practicing fundamentally excellent movements and tactics, or the more experienced-- and perhaps more daring or aggressive--skier who is merely "good at bad skiing" and heading for a dead-end?" In a typical "level 7" group lesson, an instructor is likely to face a broad mix of both.
To me, as I have often described, the single most important fundamental difference between great skiing and all the rest (at any level) lies in intent.
Great skiers are habitually offensive
--they glide and turn to control direction and line--not speed--and ski lines (where they can, at least) that take care of their speed for them--they turn so they don't have to control speed through braking. Most skiers--regardless of how aggressive or daring they are--habitually ski defensively, "
turning to control speed," using their skis and their techniques primarily to brake, and only secondarily to control line.
To an experienced and competent instructor, these differences--and their influences on technique--are obvious with even a quick glance. But to most skiers, it would seem that there is little, if any, comprehension of these fundamentals. To many skiers, the measures of competency are simply speed (faster = better skier), terrain (steeper = better skier), conditions (harder = better skier), or possibly some superficial characteristic of technique (parallel = better skier, "forward" = better skier, "carve" = better skier, etc.). Note that none
of these characteristics reflect the fundamental movement patterns or the intent behind them. Every one of them can describe both offensive and defensive techniques and tactics.
Clearly, instructors look at much more than these superficialities. But the ability scale must work for both instructors and "casual" skiers. Hence the challenge!
The descriptions on Vail SnowSports School's web page
(originally linked to in Bazzer's post #6 above) are an attempt to address both "comfort level" and fundamental technique/intent, along with a few general goals at each level. I know this, because I wrote them. (At least, I wrote the adult descriptions. The 3-6 and 7-Teen descriptions are different, simpler, and in my opinion, somewhat more based on myth and common misconception). The intent behind these descriptions was to help prospective students self-assess and place themselves in--or at least near--the "right" group. In actual lessons, the assessment and grouping relies on instructors or supervisors discussing each individual's needs and goals at the meeting place, making changes where needed, followed by a final assessment as the group skis together for a short run. The Ability Level descriptions merely serve to make the process a little quicker.
It's worth noting that on my scale the true Level 9 skier, while "fearing no terrain," can challenge himself as easily on green groomed terrain as on a gnarly double-black-diamond. It's all about fundamentals!